Four and a half years ago, Ice River was featured in Manufacturing in Focus as a manufacturer of environmentally responsible bottled water. Since that time, it has grown significantly and undergone a major transformation, rebranding under the new name Ice River Sustainable Solutions (IRSS) to demonstrate its increasing commitment to improving the plastics industry.
“We have grown to be far more than just a bottled water company, and we wanted our name to reflect that. Ice River Sustainable Solutions represents where the brand is today and its ongoing efforts to protect the environment for generations to come,” says Crystal Howe, the company’s Sustainability Manager. Using innovative resources and methods to retain plastic material within the value chain, IRSS has managed to keep over 450 million pounds of plastic out of landfills since 2009.
A more recent development for the company is its move from partial ownership to full ownership of C.R. Plastic Products. This branch of the company transforms recycled plastic caps and other recycled materials into quality, eco-friendly, outdoor furniture. IRSS experienced further growth with the introduction of BMP Extrusion, a partnership with Greenlid that provides a line of compostable products, the opening of the Shelburne water plant, the acquisition of Urban Polymers in Toronto, and an expansion of its recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) production capacity.
The new Blue Mountain Plastics Extrusion (BMPE) plant has a modern film extrusion and printing facility. It produces thin, strong, engineered coalition shrink film that allows Ice River Sustainable Solutions to use less plastic wrap for its bottled water. “Due to its thin gauge and high strength, it reduces the plastic required to pack heavy products. With water being so heavy, it drastically reduces the amount of plastic film we need to use,” explains Howe. BMP Extrusion also has a state-of-the-art printer capable of printing eight colours with in-house ink-mixing and precision automated mounting.
Using BMP Extrusion’s advanced equipment, the Ice River Sustainable Solutions team has been focused on incorporating recycled material into its plastic film which is a new innovation for this type of blown film. Starting with post-industrial recycled material (PIR), they have achieved twenty percent recycled content, and they expect that number to increase over time.
With the Shelburne Water Plant, IRSS now has the entire operation—water plant, film plant, and recycling plant—all in one location. “Shelburne now takes us through the closed-loop cycle from film, RPET, and water production in one place. The water plant is state-of-the-art with a turnkey Krones [bottling] line and an Elettric80 Forklift and warehousing system,” describes Howe.
The company is eager to bring people in for tours when possible again after pausing the visits temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tours are interesting and engaging because visitors can watch their material go from the Blue Box right through to a finished product, which will hopefully lead to an increase in recycling and create greater trust in the larger recycling system.
Ice River Sustainable Solutions is committed to closed-loop recycling to eliminate waste through the reuse of materials. The company purchases PET, Type 1 post consumer bales from local material recovery facilities, and although some of the material in the bales is not perfectly usable PET for beverage containers, IRSS is continuously innovating to find a use for it all. The cap material is sent to C.R. Plastic Products to be turned into high-quality furniture. The company uses all of the green PET material from the Blue Box in its own Ice River Green Bottle Co. brand which keeps an additional 5 million pounds of plastic out of landfills every year.
“It is an exciting time to be part of the circular economy in Canada. With eleven years under our belt, we are excited to see more companies join in,” says Howe. “We are completely committed to producing only the most environmentally-aware products and packaging.”
The impact of COVID-19 put a great deal of stress on supply chains across the globe, but Ice River Sustainable Solutions was more fortunate than most. As a result of its vertical integration and local feedstock of PET for recycling, the company was well prepared for such an event. It did not have any supply chain interruptions since its PET bale supply is from local curbside collected material. Because of this, when the demand for bottled water increased at the beginning of the pandemic, IRSS was not only able to meet customer needs but was able to support the community with water donations and RPET bottles for hand sanitizer. Ice River employees are incredibly passionate and although COVID-19 was challenging for essential workers, they worked hard to ensure that bottled water was available to all who needed it.
The area of challenge is the misinformation and negativity surrounding plastics. “We feel that we represent the positive side of plastics. We want people to see what can happen when plastics are used responsibly. Plastic has a lot of good qualities but need to remain in the value chain and not in the environment,” says Howe.
Stakeholders in the plastics industry now recognize that keeping plastics in the value chain is essential, from a financial perspective as well as for environmental reasons. PET plastic is easily recyclable over and over again. The industry does not want it to end up in landfill.
The best way to stimulate change quickly is for industry groups, government, and environmental organizations to work together to find common ground. Ice River Sustainable Solutions is excited to be a part of that change as manufacturing, in general, moves towards cyclical models.
IRSS has been producing 100 percent recycled bottles since 2010. “The beverage industry is working hard to increase recycled content in their containers. The recycling industry is always finding new ways to recycle packaging, and brand owners know consumers want more sustainable products and packaging,” says Howe. Having worked to become a trusted voice for the recycling industry, IRSS is proud of the relationships it has formed with the government, customers, and suppliers.
Ice River Sustainable Solutions has earned its reputation as an environmentally-friendly bottled water company that has grown into a leader in continuous improvement of the plastics recycling industry. “I think, over the last few years, to be recognized as a company that can help and be a solution to the plastics problem has probably been our greatest success,” says Howe. With Co-Owners Jamie and Sandy Gott as the creative minds at the helm of the company, there are lots of new developments on the horizon. “We’ve developed an excellent team at IRSS, with a passion and dedication to the environment, and it’s very exciting.”